Educating the next generation of young people to be technologically literate, life-long learners with an ever-expanding skillset of resilience, cultural awareness and empathy is by no means a ‘walk in the park’. But, as educators it is our commitment, innate passion and responsibility to try.
What is a truly effective ‘curriculum’?
I recently spoke at this year’s ‘Abu Dhabi International Teacher Conference 2023’ where I opened the session by asking a group of fellow educators to define the word ‘curriculum’… And my goodness what a multitude of heart-felt, evidence-informed and thought-provoking responses I received! “An individual learning journey” one colleague confidently proclaimed. “A self-help guide for teachers” another responded. Interestingly and, of course, extremely soullessly, the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries define the term ‘curriculum’ as: “the subjects that are included in a course of study or taught in a school, college, etc.” – talk about stripping away the passion, personalisation and inspiration from our profession.
We all, inevitably, have had very different experiences of curricula throughout our careers, across diverse school environments, cultures, subject areas and within an array of roles and positions. However, one thing which is certain is that a truly effective curriculum must be seen as the ‘lifeline’ of any educational establishment if our young people are to take full advantage of the invaluable learning experiences we offer throughout their educational journey and beyond.
First and foremost, a truly successful curriculum must align with your school’s values and ethos, which will, inevitably, differ from one educational establishment to the next. It is the ‘beating heart’ of all learning, knowledge and development and must be accessible to all. A truly impactful and effective curriculum should be fit for purpose align with your school’s values and context, promote student curiosity, challenge and provide the foundations for life-long learning and skill development. What’s more, fluidity is of great importance; the idea of being a ‘live’, collaborative and continuous feed, comprising of healthy peaks and troughs and monitored regularly by experts in their field – us!
1. Collaboration is key
From much experience of designing, developing, reviewing and delivering curricula, I could not agree more with Hattie’s number one influence to improving student outcomes: ‘building collective teacher efficacy’ as “…a key to unlocking the existing talents of individual teachers and building their commitment to the school’s success”.
Nobody can, or indeed should, be assigned the task of going solo when it comes to curriculum design and development. I recently met a fellow Head of Department, who sought advice and networking opportunities. He talked about his struggles with curriculum design as he strives to introduce his subject to the curriculum for the first time and the isolation he feels as the sole teacher of Business Studies at his school. What a sad thing to hear. As Counsell quite rightly affirms: “A senior leader cannot be master of fifteen subjects…”
…” It is, therefore, up to us as subject specialists, enthusiasts and experts in our own field to have the confidence, knowledge and support to develop truly engaging and effective curricula, but this doesn’t just happen overnight. Cross-curricular observations and sharing good practice, networking locally, nationally and internationally and CPD opportunities (often free of charge, if you look in the right places) are a great starting point.
Finally, don’t forget to involve your greatest collaborators – your students and parents. Student and parental surveys shape a great curriculum. They are a fantastic way of measuring impact, enjoyment and engagement in addition to our normal formative assessment, e.g. AfL (Assessment for Learning) and high-stake, summative assessment of course. At my current school we recently introduced Spanish to the curriculum at KS3 and have used student and parental voice results to help us to evaluate and improve our curriculum for next year.
2. Intention, ways to implement and how do we measure the impact
With the somewhat refreshing 2019 Ofsted Inspection Framework , which adopted a greater interest in measuring curriculum effectiveness and quality of learning through the ‘3 Is’ (Intent, Implementation and Impact) and less interest in measuring data and analysing spread sheets, the curriculum, quite rightly, returned to the limelight.
Across my 13 years of teaching and curriculum development to date, I have had the privilege of working in three extremely different schools; each with its strengths and each with its challenges, both public and private. Regardless of the country, local community, staff, leadership, socio-economic status, inspection rating, class sizes, facilities or budget, one thing which I am certain about is that in order for a curriculum to be truly impactful and effective in bridging gaps and creating and encouraging life-long learning, giving teachers and leaders sufficient time to do this well is absolutely vital. As Myatt and Tomsett quite rightly affirm: “…there is a danger that in a rush to get plans neatly sorted and into files for scrutiny, the light and the life of the subjects could be in danger of being lost.”
Take your time and never strive for perfection – it’s unhealthy and completely unrealistic when it comes to education and in life. Never be afraid to ask questions, seek advice, admit to not knowing everything, be open to change and other’s opinions and expertise.
3. Have we achieved ‘world-class’ yet?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary definition, the adjective ‘world-class’ is defined as: “Someone or something world-class is one of the best that there are of that type in the world.”
If you were expecting to read this and download a ‘ready-made’ ‘world-class’ curriculum map ‘freebie’ at the simple click of a button, I am sorry to disappoint. However, I hope we are in agreement as ‘world-class’ educators striving every day to provide a ‘world-class’ education for our young people, that a one size fits all approach to curriculum is extremely out-dated and ineffective in order for ‘world-class’ teaching and learning to happen, grow and blossom. Gone are the days of printing out generic textbook, exam board and trusty old departmental schemes of work as we warmly welcome a new era of evidence-informed, teacher expertise and professional development in improving student outcomes and experiences.
Our students, school community, culture, ethos and values must be the beating heart of curriculum design and intent. Promoting and establishing true collective efficacy, upskilling staff, allocating sufficient time to, and prioritising, CPD and collaborative curriculum development will help us to develop, implement and regularly review our teaching and learning. It is in this way which we can then foster curiosity and enjoyment and enable all student to access to our wonderful curricula.
If, indeed, a ‘world-class’ curriculum does exist, how would we measure its impact and how could we ever truly judge it as ‘world-class’?
For me, the answers lie amongst our young people and their futures. Have we developed life-long learners? Have we embedded a growth mindset for the next generation? Have we fully prepared our students with the knowledge, experiences and life skills they need to succeed in today’s society and beyond? I truly hope so.
“If educators believe that they can influence student achievement, then it is likely their belief will manifest in their practice. Help teachers develop mastery and collective efficacy by employing these key strategies.”
Further reading for curriculum enthusiasts like me
 Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie Visible Learning. Available at: https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/ (Accessed: April 8, 2023).
 James, D. and Warwick, I. (no date) “How can teachers become specialists?,” in World Class – Tackling the ten biggest challenges facing schools today. Routledge.
 Education inspection framework (no date) GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework/education-inspection-framework (Accessed: April 8, 2023).
 Myatt, M. and Tomsett, J. (2021) “Introduction – Why this book? Why now?,” in Huh – Curriculum conversations between subject and senior leaders. JOHN CATT PUBLICATION.
 Cambridge Dictionary. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/world-class (Accessed: April 8, 2023).
 Donohoo, J. (2017) Collective Efficacy – How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning. Corwin. (no date) Cambridge Dictionary. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/world-class (Accessed: April 8, 2023).
Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie (no date) Visible Learning. Available at: https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-hattie/ (Accessed: April 8, 2023).
Donohoo, J. (2017) Collective Efficacy – How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning. Corwin.
Education inspection framework (no date) GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework/education-inspection-framework (Accessed: April 8, 2023).
James, D. and Warwick, I. (no date) “How can teachers become specialists?,” in World Class – Tackling the ten biggest challenges facing schools today. Routledge.
Myatt, M. and Tomsett, J. (2021) “Introduction – Why this book? Why now?,” in Huh – Curriculum conversations between subject and senior leaders. JOHN CATT PUBLICATION.
Myatt, M. (2018) THE CURRICULUM: Gallimaufry to coherence. John Catt Publication.
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